Monday, July 10, 2017

The Amber Temple: A Curse of Strahd Play Report

During our last Curse of Strahd adventure, Reinhardt the Paladin, Barzulen the Warlock, and Lireyan the Druid met a dusk elf named Kasimir Velikov. The tarroka card reading they received from Madam Eva suggested that this individual would be instrumental in defeating Count Strahd von Zarovich, who had summoned them to the dread plane where they now find themselves trapped by the oppressive mists that encapsulate the realm. Kasimir insisted that the party must venture into the nearby Mount Ghakis to an ancient temple, rumored to have been the site where Strahd had sealed his pact with the Dark Powers of Barovia to become a vampire.

Barzulen's ears perked up at the mention of this temple. "Would you say this temple has amber doors?"

Kasimir confirmed this to be true. Barzulen has for much of the campaign anticipated finding a place that matched this description, for a demon spoke to him in Lady Fiona Wachter's cellar* encouraging him to find the amber doors, behind which he would gain power over death itself.

*The importance of reading Curse of Strahd all the way through before beginning it. I have been able to do a lot of foreshadowing with this adventure. The payoffs for doing so are extremely rewarding and the excitement level for the players when they are seeing something coming to fruition is awesome to see.

Reinhardt and Lireyan were less enthusiastic. Dr. van Richten had minced no words when he warned Barzulen against seeking this place out, saying it was a dangerous place where great evil had been sealed away to shelter it from those who would unleash it upon the world for selfish purposes. Nonetheless, it was a condition of Kasimir's assistance and he had been foretold by the divination. It seemed they had no choice.

They climbed up into the mountains and came upon a gatehouse which raised its iron bars as they neared it. On the other side, a wall of green flame prevented their passing. Lireyan expertly cast a dispel magic spell to douse the flames. Two gargoyles on top of the gatehouse then came alive and attacked the party, engaging in an epic battle. Kasimir proved his worth as he showed expertise in advanced magic that helped the party defeat their foes. To the party's dismay, the curtain of green flame returned but fortunately Lireyan had just enough energy to once again suppress the dangerous obstacle. They continued along the mountain path.

Tsolenka Pass by James Webster,

Soon they came to a chasm that could only be traversed by a narrow stone bridge. Reinhardt squinted his eyes, protecting himself from the snowstorm that was blurring the party's visibility. A figure was upon the bridge waiting for them: Strahd von Zarovich. Reinhardt wasted no time in activating the blade that once belonged to Strahd's brother, Sergei. A beam of radiant sunlight lit up from the hilt and Reinhardt charged across the icy overpass. As he readied his blade to cleave through Strahd, he passed right through the form. It was an illusion.

After getting their wits about them, the party continued up the mountain until Reinhardt was tossed several feet and hit the ground inches from the cliff side. A giant goat, eyes glowing red with evil intent, had just bucked up against his armor and had attempted to send him thousands of feet to his doom. The party quickly sprung into action to Reinhardt's defense and repelled the creature.

Once near the summit, the party gazed upon an incredible structure built right into the mountainside. Hooded statues of amber loomed above the party, standing in front of the temple like sentinels. A horse neighed nearby, tied to the foundation of one of these statues. It would seem someone was inside.

Lireyan cast speak with animals* and learned that the horse belonged to Castle Ravenloft's chamberlain, a dusk elf named Rahadin. The horse professed it hated coming to this place, but his master would make the journey every month or so. Asking a few more questions about Rahadin's business in such a place, the horse (whose name was Ed of course) simply did not know. The party freed the horse, who was happy to be granted its freedom. The party prepared themselves to enter the temple.

*How exciting! Using an underutilized spell like this was unexpected, and allowed me an opportunity to share with the party some interesting bits of information that they would not have otherwise had. It added a dimension to the temple that I was uncertain they would get had they just run into Rahadin. They have met him before and it was unpleasant, so I assume it would turn to combat real quick. By talking to the horse the players now know that Rahadin comes here frequently...but for what purpose?

"Let's chat!"

Inside the foyer they saw a great hall, though their light did not allow them to see it in its entirety. The moved along to some side passages and found a circular hole in the floor past the first set of doors. Reinhardt moved ahead to look down, and he tossed a rock down to test its depth. 3 skulls wreathed in green flame flew up in response to this disturbance. Barzulen acted fast, remembering the green flame from the bridge, and cast a *dispel magic to send one of the flaming skulls down into the pit.

*A note, this spell obviously does not function this way; but it was too fitting to the observation of the player from earlier in the story to not allow to work. I decided on the fly to meet in the middle and allow it to suppress the flameskull for 1 minute.

The party moved on to a lecture hall. A book rested upon a podium and Barzulen's tiny legs couldn't get him to it fast enough. As he reached to grab the book, a human with half his face mutilated by burns jumped up from behind the podium to prevent the seizure. "It's my book! You can't have it!" The man told them his name was Vilnius and was the apprentice of Jakarion. Or at least he had been before his master was killed by one of the flameskulls. Barzulen tried to make a deal with Vilnius for the spellbook in exchange for showing him the way out, to which Vilnius counter-offered and presented him with an amulet he found. Barzulen quickly cast detect magic and discovered that it was a powerful artifact. They made the deal, and Vilnius fled the temple.

The party headed to the other side of the temple where they came upon a room of mountain folk who had taken refuge in the temple from the snowstorm outside. They didn't seem to know anything of this place, and were merely using it as shelter. They warned the party of more flameskulls behind the double doors to the north. They all agreed strength in numbers was best, and they decided to rest together inside and watch each other's backs.

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